Until a few years ago, a trip to Antarctica was reserved for scientists, the extremely wealthy and that person who just had to make it to all seven continents no matter what the cost. Now, more and more tourists are trying to reach that big, icy landmass before it disappears.
Last-chance tourism – visiting sites or destinations that are in danger of getting wiped out – has been on the rise, and experts predict that it's only going to become more popular in 2017. While some people believe that the trend will help perpetuate the very problems that are causing the destruction of these destinations (pollution, logging, global warming), others believe an influx in tourism dollars can actually help preserve endangered places around the world.
Here are 10 places to visit before they disappear:
Great Barrier Reef
Abundant color and wildlife can be found at the Great Barrier Reef — Photo courtesy of iStock / Grafner
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest living structure – so huge it’s the only living thing on Earth that can be seen from space. But by the time we depart this big blue marble we call home on one of Elon Musk’s spaceships to Mars (in 40 to 100 years, by Musk's estimates), there’s a good chance our pilot will be saying something like “and to your left, that big space off the coast of Australia is where the Great Barrier Reef used to be.”
Rising temperatures, invasive species, coastal development and coral bleaching have already killed almost half of the reef in the last 30 years. As a result, tourists have been rushing to see the reef and its 1,500 species of fish, as well as hundreds of types of coral and dozens of marine mammals. However, some believe that well-planned tourism and an influx of dollars from those visiting the reef could actually help revive it.
The stunning Cook Islands — Photo courtesy of iStock / Digital Vision
Rising water levels are an increasingly large problem for all of humanity, but for islands across the world this symptom of global warming spells imminent doom. From the Maldives to Antigua to the West Indies, there are thousands of small islands in extreme danger, but no region has as many islands preparing for a reality in which their home becomes inhospitable as Oceania.
Residents of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Tonga, Micronesia and the Cook Islands might need a new place to live within the next few decades, once their homes – and their powdery white-sand beaches – get buried underneath the crystal-clear azure sea that attracts hordes of tourists every year.
The frozen beauty of Antarctica — Photo courtesy of iStock / sodar99
Antarctic sea ice has actually reached record highs in recent years, but some researchers say that while Antarctica is in better shape than the arctic in the north, this is not necessarily a sign of Antarctica's health, and the whole landmass could be gone by the end of the century.
Regardless of what happens, this frozen continent is becoming one of the leading hot spots for last-chance tourists who believe the ice fields, otherworldly landscapes and, of course, penguins might not be around for that much longer.
Venice is slowly sinking — Photo courtesy of iStock / Marco Secchi
The Floating City has been sinking for years, and now the rising ocean could mean that Venice will be completely underwater faster than we thought – about five times faster, in fact.
While the city itself sinks, the water levels are rising, which means Venice has been dropping about 2mm per year, and the city is experiencing a record number of floods. Scientists are hard at work trying find ways to stop Venice from going down, but if they don't figure it out soon, San Marco Square and Saint Mark's Basilica might become a modern-day Atlantis.
Everglades National Park is full of interesting flora and fauna — Photo courtesy of iStock / romrodinka
According to the National Park Service, the Everglades is a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty. This 1.5 million-acre expanse of land is also home to endangered species like the manatee, Florida panther and American crocodile, and thanks to a mix of salt and fresh water, the Everglades is the only place on earth that is home to both alligators and crocodiles.
Considering the vast size of the area, it's hard to imagine that it's in any sort of danger, but the Everglades is already half the size it was a century ago, thanks to detrimental farming practices, water diversion and pollution, and now climate change is speeding things up. The government has made it a priority to save the Everglades from disappearing altogether in an attempt to save dozens of endangered species and the drinking water of millions of people, but whether efforts will pan out is still up in the air.
The Dead Sea
High salinity allows one to float easily in the Dead Sea — Photo courtesy of iStock / RuslanDashinsky
The Dead Sea is, unfortunately, dying faster than just about anywhere on earth. In the last 40 years, the world’s saltiest body of water has shrunk by at least one third thanks to a mix of agriculture that's diverting water and industry in both Jordan and Israel using the salty water to produce potash, a basic ingredient in fertilizer.
While the world's oceans rise at somewhere between 4 to 8 inches per year, this salty lake (yes, it's actually a lake) is losing water at an alarming rate rate of up to 5 feet per year, creating thousands of sinkholes and leaving resorts that were once next to one of Israel's biggest tourist sites up to a mile from the shore. It’s estimated that you might only have about 50 years left to rush to the lowest point on earth to get that iconic photo of yourself reading a newspaper while you float.
Avenue of the Baobabs in Madagascar — Photo courtesy of iStock / dennisvdw
Everybody who's seen the animated film Madagascar knows the crazy band of lemurs were the movie's unsung heroes, but what less people know is that about 60 species of actual lemurs live on the very real island of Madagascar, including the Indri, the world's largest lemur. And while those animated lemurs may live forever in our TV screens (or, more likely, projected from an AI cube in our futuristic home theaters), the real-life lemurs of the real-life Madagascar will probably be wiped out along with all of the island’s forests, thanks to logging and slash-and-burn farming.
We’ve already destroyed more than 80 percent of the island’s forest, and it’s not just lemurs and trees – including the trippy-looking baobab trees pictured above – that we’re going to have to say goodbye to; about 80 percent of all life in Madagascar is endemic, and those species will likely disappear from the planet within the next 30 to 40 years unless we do something.
Mount Kilimanjaro rises above Amboseli National Park — Photo courtesy of iStock / sVaP
No, Africa’s tallest mountain is not going to crumble to the earth anytime soon, but adventure seekers are rushing to the 19,341-foot peak to get to the top while it’s still covered in snow. An estimated 80 percent of the Furtwangler Glacier that sits at the top of the mountain has disappeared in the last century, and experts believe it could disappear altogether as soon as 2035.
And it’s not just that photo of that iconic blanket of white that last-chance tourists are rushing to get; the entire experience of hiking through snow in a tropical country of elephants and zebras could soon be a thing of the past.
Glacier National Park
Wild Goose Island in Glacier National Park — Photo courtesy of E+ / HaizhanZheng
What will Glacier National Park be without any glaciers? Unfortunately, we're probably going to find out the answer to that question in our lifetimes. Glacier National Park has been a poster child for climate change in the U.S., because most of the park's original 150 glaciers have receded, and we're now down to only 25.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the park's largest glaciers could be gone by 2030, and all are in danger of disappearing within the next few decades, which has hikers, climbers and wild-life seekers rushing to one of America's largest, oldest and most-visited national parks.
These Inca ruins might be at risk — Photo courtesy of iStock / Skouatroulio
Considering it was just over 100 years ago that we rediscovered this long-lost 15th century city, it would be cruel to lose it again completely in the near future, but experts worry that might be a reality. The jaw-dropping Inca citadel is one of the most coveted tourist attractions in the world, and a trip there is on just about everyone's bucket lists. But the rapidly increasing number of tourists – largely thanks to a train that has made it considerably easier to visit – have also damaged the site.
The Peruvian government has taken drastic measures to try to limit the number of visitors, and is even trying to divert tourists to other Incan sites in the area, but when all is said and done, the efforts might not help, considering it's still at risk of destruction due to landslide, and since it's built on a fault line, potentially an earthquake.